How to Maintain Range of Motion & Joint Health as You Age
You’ve heard the saying, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” This rings true regarding our muscles and joints as we get older. Studies have shown that stiffness and/or weakness in the muscles that support posture can contribute to a loss of independence as we age. It is extremely important to perform exercises to maintain joint and muscle flexibility in order to continue an active way of life and perform many day-to-day tasks, from putting on your shoes and washing your back in the shower to maintaining your fitness level. Cara Ann Senicola, physical therapist at Hospital for Special Surgery Spine & Sport in Jupiter, Florida, offers the following tips for maintaining range of motion and joint health:
1. Chest stretch – Gravity and years of computer work can often lead to a rounded shoulder posture. This stretch works the pectoral muscles in your chest, and can counteract the effects of poor posture. Place two pillows lengthwise on the ground. Lie face up on top of the pillows so that your head and back are supported but your lower body lies directly on the floor. Raise your arms up so that they form a “T”, “Y,” or “I” position. Each position stretches a different part of your anterior chest. You should feel a stretch in front of your chest.
2. Hamstring stretch- This stretch is important for hip and back mobility. Sit on the floor, using a towel or exercise mat for cushioning if needed. Hold each end of a long towel in your hands and wrap the middle of the towel around one foot. Still holding the towel, lie back with your legs lying straight out on the ground. Use the towel to raise your leg up in the air until you feel a stretch in the back of your thigh. Try to keep your knee straight throughout the sustained hold. Repeat on the other side.
3. Piriformis stretch (gluteal/hip area) – This stretch is important for tasks such as tying your shoes and putting on your socks. Lie on your back with both knees bent so that your feet are placed on the floor. Cross your right ankle over your left knee. Relax and allow gravity to press your right knee towards the ground. If you do not feel a stretch, you can grab onto your left thigh and gently raise it towards your chest. You should feel a stretch in back of your right thigh and buttock. Repeat on the other side.
4. Gluteus stretch- As in the hip stretch, lie on your back with both knees bent so that your feet are placed on the floor. Bring your right knee up towards your right shoulder as you straighten your left leg on the ground. Support your leg by placing your hands beneath your thigh and hold. You should feel a stretch in your buttock and lower back. Repeat on the other side.
5. Shoulder and upper back stretch-This stretch works your latissimus dorsi muscle, and is good for maintaining flexibility and range of motion in your shoulder and upper back. Start by kneeling on your hands and knees. Keep your hands on the ground, and allow your backside to sit back towards your heels. Allow your head to relax as you sit into the stretch. Yogis may recognize this position as the “child’s pose.” You should feel the stretch under your arms and along the back and side of your trunk.
6. Hip flexor stretch – This stretch is important for hip and low back mobility. Sit at the edge of a firm bed. Lie back and bring one knee towards your chest holding onto the back of your thigh. Allow the other leg to hang. You should feel a stretch in front of the hip and/or thigh of the leg that is hanging. Repeat on the other side.
It is important to hold each stretch at least 30 seconds. It’s recommended to perform at least 3 sets of each stretch. For best results, warm up your muscles first by walking or performing some other light cardiovascular activity. Warming up makes the tissues of your muscles more flexible, making your exercise more effective. Stretching as a daily exercise routine is important to maintain good heath and an active lifestyle. Please consult a physician before starting any exercise program and if you have any questions about your ability to participate in one.